Monday, August 24, 2009


Since 2005, the price of rice has increased 500%, despite farmers reaping record crops. Similar price hikes of other staple crops (corn, wheat, etc.) indicate that world food production can no longer keep up with production. The Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, which first doubled production from 1950 to 1990, now needs to turn in an encore performance by 2030, half the time than it did earlier.

With that in mind, it's time to start figuring out the 2nd green revolution, and the first step requires no more than common sense in the form of sustainable farming. Since past green revolution techniques (lots of pesticides and chemical fertilizers) led to depleted aquifers and salinized soils, crop rotation, polyculture, composting, agroforestry, biological control and interplanting with legumes need to be mandated. Green agriculture would preserve and improve soil health, meaning production can be increased without clearing forests, vital in slowing global warming, which also decimated crop yields.

It's also imperative that this revolution be properly brought to Africa. The first never came here due to corruption, mismanagement, rickety infrastructure and cost, which forced Africans to export crops, leaving themselves hungry. Development aid packages should now focus less on industrialization and more on providing hybrid seeds and training to local farmers for sustainable farming. Both types of agriculture- high tech and sustainable- are beginning to take roor, the former via Malawi's Millenium Villages, and the latter through the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities (SFHC) project, so the challenge is to keep them both going.

Farmers' rights and welfare also make up an often overlooked, yet integral, aspect of sustainability. Farmers should be empowered to sell their own produce, eliminating unscrupulous middlemen, and should not be taxed for side products: e.g. selling catfish reared in paddy boxes. Plus, trickery like making high yielding varieties infertile (forcing farmers to keep buying new seeds yearly), coating seeds with chemicals, and sacrificing built in disease resistance during breeding (so that if chemical companies own seed breeding companies, as is common, those companies can sell more pesticides) should all be outlawed so that farmers need not sell their produce to pay for the costs of farming. This will enable agricultural societies to have sufficient food and income.

Of course, biotechnology and targeted breeding are also vital in this revolution. New crop varieties must be created with increased drought tolerance, nitrogen efficiency, pest resistance and photosynthesis rates (making more with existing sunlight and water resources). Unlike in the past, new varieties should produce high varieties without relying on pesticides and fossil-fuel based fertilizers.

The onus is now on governments and scientists to merge immediate results with long term sustainability. I'm praying for food, farmers and fertility, that this Green Revolution may be one of multicoloured harmony.

*For a longer, more detailed version of this article, leave a note in the Cbox, or drop me a comment, with your e-mail add. I'll send this to you as soon as possible. -Noel.

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